By Judith Katz and Fred Miller, The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group Inc.
As we think about the state of diversity and inclusion (and many are calling out equity and accessibility as part of this discussion) and the work ahead, we recognize that we have come far and yet, have so far to go. Our work for more than five decades (starting with our founder Kaleel Jamison in 1970) has always focused on culture change and the understanding that an organization’s key pillars, from policies and practices to leadership and accountability, must all support the creation of a culture of inclusion. We have always positioned diversity not as a “nice thing to have,” but as a business or mission necessity for achieving goals and objectives.
Although much has changed since the ’70s, much change is still needed. The foundational elements and dynamics that create barriers to full inclusion and leveraging differences must be addressed at a systemic level. We have identified three critical shifts, as we move to the next stage of this journey:
1. A System Change Approach
Just as organizations are often siloed and fragmented, many organizations have taken a similar approach to diversity and inclusion. Few have invested the time, resources, and effort needed for total system change. For example, many rely on employee resource groups (ERGs) as the key—and sometimes only component—of their D&I strategy. While ERGs are important, they are insufficient to change an organization’s culture and remove organizational barriers. Other organizations focus on increasing representation and talent acquisition (hiring, coaching, development, promotions) but don’t address the changes needed in the workplace environment to support people who bring different ways of thinking and contributing.
Successful diversity and inclusion work requires a comprehensive strategy tied to the business, with leadership accountabilities and a focus on the workplace, the workforce, and the marketplace. It requires that leaders develop new competencies and capabilities for leading a more diverse and inclusive organization, and that team members have the skills for partnering to leverage the diversity of experience that each person brings. The result of a systemic approach is an environment where people are able to bring their uniqueness to HOW things get done in service of an organization’s mission and strategies.
2. Raising the Bar on the Demonstrated Competencies of Leaders: More than training
The trend in many organizations has been to conduct unconscious bias training as a key strategy (again, sometimes the primary strategy) for increasing an understanding of the barriers that exist and the ways in which that bias impacts various groups. Other organizations are creating greater awareness through training that addresses micro-aggression. These are important concepts to understand, but such training on its own rarely creates, let alone sustains, the system changes that are necessary. Unfortunately, we have seen these concepts become a crutch, and sometimes a free pass, that allows people to focus on the “we all have biases” message. Instead, self-revelation and effort are needed to eradicate biases and assumptions regarding people different from ourselves that are carried at individual, team, and system levels.
Organizations need a new set of competencies and capabilities. What does it mean to be an inclusive leader or manager today? What behaviors should managers and leaders be accountable for and exhibit before they are promoted to their next leadership position? For instance, the ability to recognize and tap into the diverse skills and perspectives of a team, and create an inclusive work environment, should be criteria for promotion.
However, these skills cannot reside in the managerial ranks only. Organizations must also hold individuals accountable for partnering effectively within and across teams to leverage differences. We need to help organizations, leaders, and team members understand what to do to create a more inclusive environment, rather than focusing on what not to do.
3. Safety is Foundational: Don’t assume it, create it
A major impediment to leveraging differences and obtaining higher performance is a work environment that is not safe enough to encourage people to speak up and put forward their unique thoughts and experiences. Foundational to any I&D effort is the ability to create an environment of interaction safety (Miller & Katz, 2018).
As many societies seem to be experiencing greater polarization, it becomes even more important that people feel safe enough within our organizations’ boundaries to lean into discomfort and engage, to bring different points of view and share ideas that feel different (especially ideas that aren’t fully formed and need the input and collaboration of others), and to listen to one another as allies.
Starting from a mindset of joining rather than judging others begins to create that place of safety (Katz & Miller, 2013). Proactively identifying what individuals and teams need in order to feel safe, and then working to create that environment, is critical for shifting the culture so that each person feels free to speak up and bring their different perspectives and experiences.
There is no magic wand for creating an inclusive environment that leverages differences for organizational success. Like any organizational effort, it takes leadership, focus, investment, and a comprehensive systems change.
Fueled by her passion for addressing systemic barriers, known for her boundless energy and sharp analytical mind, Judith Katz has distinguished herself as a thought leader, practitioner, educator, and strategist for over 40 years.
CEO and Lead Strategist of The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, Inc. He specializes in developing workforce utilization strategies that accelerate results to deliver higher individual, team, and organizational performance.